Particulate Matter in Exhaust Linked to Cancer, Asthma and Heart Disease
OMAHA, NEBRASKA — Does Omaha have bad gas? According to recent fuel tests, it does—at least in terms of the levels of toxic substances, which approached 30 percent by volume in base gasoline. But adding ethanol to gasoline significantly lowers the health threat of the fuel we put in our vehicles.
In early July, four fuel samples were pulled from the Magellan fuel terminal in Omaha. The samples were independently tested by Midwest Laboratories in Omaha.
The results indicated a high level of toxics in base gasoline in the Omaha market, even higher than those found in similar samples tested in January, which were pulled from a variety of retail locations in the city.
Toxics such as benzene, xylene and toluene are added to gasoline to increase octane, which is necessary to reduce engine knock. These substances, known collectively as “aromatics”, are known toxins and, in some cases, known or suspected carcinogens or cancer-causing substances.
In the July fuel samples, these toxics accounted for nearly 30 percent of volume in base gasoline without ethanol added. However, when 10 percent ethanol was added to the mix, the volume of toxic compounds dropped to 23 percent—or nearly by one-fourth that of straight gasoline.
“While ‘aromatics’ may sound like a good thing, they are actually a huge threat to human health,” said Angela Tin, vice president of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. “These toxics do not completely combust in the engine and therefore exit the tailpipe as tiny particles that enter our lungs, heart, brains and bloodstream.”
Particulate matter from vehicle exhaust has been linked to brain cancer, lung cancer, heart disease and asthma — and is especially harmful to infants, children and people suffering from heart or respiratory problems.
Tin says fuel with ethanol is a cleaner air alternative. “Ethanol is a clean-burning, non-toxic source of octane,” she said. “The more ethanol in our fuel, the lower the volume of toxic compounds in our fuel and in the air we breathe.”
Ethanol adds oxygen to fuel and that helps the fuel burn more completely. “The oxygen leads to a more complete combustion of fuel,” said Todd Sneller, Nebraska Ethanol Board administrator. “That means more of the toxic compounds are completely burned in the engine rather than coming out the tailpipe.”
Ethanol also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked to climate change.
Tin added that higher blends of ethanol are especially valuable in lowering the levels of harmful particulate matter in the air. “Higher blends such as E85—85 percent ethanol—are truly the clean air choice,” Tin added. “Anyone driving a flex fuel vehicle has the opportunity to help make our air healthier by simply making the right choice at the pump.”
About one in seven Nebraskans is driving a flex fuel vehicle that can operate on any blend of ethanol and gasoline up to E85. The owner’s manual or other indicators such as a yellow gas cap or “flex fuel” insignia on the vehicle are indicators that one owns a flex fuel vehicle.
E85 is available at several locations in the Omaha area. Visit E85Omaha.com for locations. More information on toxic compounds in gasoline and the clean air benefits of ethanol can be found at AmericanEthanolNE.org or ethanol.nebraska.gov.